Suspected pro-independence protesters, some screaming in terror, were rounded up by police and soldiers in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Wednesday as the city began its first day under martial law.
The heavy crackdown, which came after three days of clashes in which police shot and killed at least 11 and perhaps 50 or more, appeared to have brought relative calm to the city.
All foreigners, with the exception of a handful of people holding teaching or business jobs in Lhasa, have been ordered to leave the city by today. Many Tibetans fear that once those potential witnesses have been removed, a fierce crackdown will take place against those who participated in this week’s clashes and any who dare to protest in the streets again.
Fear engulfed many of those involved in the protests. Security forces raided homes in the city’s Tibetan quarter, arresting suspects and taking them away in trucks, according to foreign tourists in Lhasa interviewed by telephone from Beijing.
An American tourist described seeing a terrified young Tibetan woman dragged by soldiers from the stone-walled courtyard of a residential compound.
“She was screaming and crying and was pulled by many troops into the back of an open truck and driven off,” he said. “The truck kept coming back and forth. Each time they’d arrest someone. They seemed to be doing it pretty systematically.”
Police had photographed many demonstrators and rioters during the clashes and are now in a position to seek out those individuals.
Tibetans “are afraid that . . . whatever people they (police) can identify are going to get arrested and maybe executed,” another American traveler said. “Tibetans think a lot of people are going to get killed, and that’s why the foreigners (who might inform the outside world) are being forced to leave.”
‘Restraint’ Seen as Weakness
Doje Cering, a pro-Chinese ethnic Tibetan who heads the Tibet Autonomous Region government, was quoted on China’s national radio Wednesday as saying that “separatists” advocating Tibetan independence had taken the government’s “restrained” stance toward previous demonstrations as a sign of weakness.
Three previous pro-independence demonstrations in the past 18 months have been suppressed after police opened fire on protesters. Various reports have placed the death toll in these incidents anywhere from 15 to 41. After each incident, dozens or hundreds of Tibetans were imprisoned, with most released again after several weeks or months. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms, and Western human rights organizations have reported allegations of torture of prisoners by electric cattle prods and other means.
Authorities now say these protests were handled too leniently.
“Now is the time for a radical solution,” Doje said, according to the radio report. “If we don’t adopt that now, it will seriously influence our social stability.”
The current troubles in Lhasa began Sunday when about a dozen Buddhist monks and nuns staged a pro-independence demonstration, which soon escalated into a rock-and-bottle-throwing clash with police. Police shootings and widespread rioting followed. Official reports say that the rioting came first, while foreign tourists say that police gunfire ignited the subsequent violence.
The official New China News Agency has reported that 11 Tibetans and one policeman have died in the violence. Most tourists have placed the number killed this week at 20 to 50. Some Tibetans in Lhasa have told tourists that about 100 people died.
China, which has firmly controlled Tibet since 1951, views advocacy of Tibetan independence as treason. The region was part of the Chinese empire during the Qing Dynasty but had de facto independence after 1911.
Friday is the 30th anniversary of the beginning of an abortive anti-Chinese uprising that resulted in the Dalai Lama, traditionally the temporal and spiritual ruler of Tibet, fleeing to exile in India. Until martial law was declared, there were widespread expectations among Chinese authorities and Tibetans that Friday might be a day of especially severe conflict. March 17, the anniversary of the day the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, has been viewed as another potential trouble date.
It is unclear whether any Tibetans will dare to stage demonstrations now that thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers are deployed in the city.
The Dalai Lama’s administration-in-exile in India issued a statement Wednesday condemning the declaration of martial law but reiterating a call for negotiations on Tibet’s future.
“Despite the current tragic events, we are still ready to hold talks with the Chinese so that a peaceful solution can be found,” Tashi Wongdi, the Dalai Lama’s chief representative in New Delhi, declared. “We are willing to meet the Chinese any day in Geneva.”
China offered last year to hold talks with the Dalai Lama if he first dropped demands for Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama accepted the offer but wants the agenda to discuss “a self-governing democratic entity” in Tibet that would leave only defense and foreign affairs in Beijing’s hands. China views this proposal as a disguised form of independence. Although contacts between the two sides continue, there has been no visible progress toward opening formal talks.
The exiled leader’s statement expressed fear that with martial law in place, China may “resort to more repressive methods.”
“The imposition of martial law reveals that the Chinese have lost control of the situation in Tibet,” it added. “If, as the Chinese claim, only a handful of people are involved, we don’t see any reason why they have to resort to such an extreme step.”
A report from Lhasa on Wednesday by the New China News Agency used almost idyllic terms to describe the quick results of martial law. The agency said shopkeepers and Buddhist worshipers praised the return of order to the city.
A middle-aged Tibetan woman who came out to pray at the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa was quoted as declaring: “Since martial law was declared, I have a strong sense of safety. I needn’t worry any more that flying stones might hurt or kill me when I come here simply to pray.”
Meanwhile, the only two Western correspondents known to be in Lhasa were detained at their hotel.
Reuters reported from Beijing that one of its correspondents, Guy Dinmore, and Jasper Becker of the Guardian newspaper, both British citizens who have been in Lhasa the last few days, had been interrogated by police. They were then returned to their hotel, informed that they were “under investigation” and ordered not to go outside, the British agency reported.
The New China News Agency reported early today that Dinmore and Becker were ordered to leave Tibet for breaking a regulation requiring Beijing-based correspondents to receive permission for reporting trips outside the national capital. The agency said that Dinmore was fined and Becker was given an oral warning.